Yesterday afternoon, I arrived home after a day of errands, unpacked the grocery bags, looked around our newly cleaned house, and breathed a deep sigh of contentment.

Much to my surprise, I am discovering a deep satisfaction in providing for myself, my house, and most of all, my loved ones. A well-stocked fridge, a clean floor (even if I wasn’t the one who cleaned it!), new clothes for myself and my husband, a new hairstyle on my head and red polish on my toes… at that moment, I was the picture of a happy housewife. Who would’ve thought?

Since quitting my job, it has been an almost daily struggle to find new ways of defining myself. Am I a caretaker? A gardener/landscaper? A homemaker? Or perhaps “just” a wife and daughter, devoting myself to all the myriad duties those roles entail? As I have increasingly come to define myself in relation to others, my biggest struggle has been to avoid losing my own identity. In other words, where do I fit into my own life?

My therapist keeps telling me that I have made by far the harder decision in choosing not to work during this difficult time in my life. She’s right — in some ways, it would be a lot easier to have to get up and go to the office every day, without thinking about how best to use my time, without even having the possibility of letting my grief drag me back down under the covers. Some days, I do let myself succumb to that temptation, writing it off to a mental health day. But those times are few and far between. Most of the time, I succeed in getting myself out of bed and filling my daytime hours with productive activity.

Strangely enough, I am finding that I am happiest when I devote that activity to taking care of others. Last night, standing in my kitchen and surveying my housewife’s handiwork, I felt a greater fulfillment than at just about any other time in my life. Even three years ago, I would have scoffed at these small measures of achievement. But now, today, they feel immensely good.

Turns out I’m not alone. I’ve been reading The Geography of Bliss, by Eric Weiner, picking it up either in between novels or before bed. Last night I found out that in a survey of happiness amongst various professions, the ones with the highest level of career satisfaction were not those who made a ton of money, but rather those who devoted themselves to serving others, i.e. firemen, nurses, doctors, etc.

So go figure. After pursuing a career in academia for almost ten years, then working as an administrative specialist (aka secretary) for two more, turns out that the greatest happiness was to be found right in my own home. True, I’m not making any money, and that new haircut put quite a dent in my savings. But I am spending my days making life more productive and fulfilling for the people I love — doing the grocery shopping so my husband doesn’t have to, taking care of my dad for a full day so that his regular caretakers (both paid and familial) can have the day off, etc.

I realize that none of this will pay my bills, or put food on the table. I know that I am very, very lucky to afford to be a housewife at all. But it does allow me to walk in my front door and feel as though I have accomplished a great deal with my day, even if I’ll never get a paycheck for my efforts.

Eventually, my world and my career will expand once again. For right now though, you can just call me Susie.

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